Autonomous pontoon boat could venture out to other planets

Published online: Mar 21, 2012 News Ryan Heise
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It might be a long ways off from breaking any world records, but the Tucson Explorer II could help pave the way for exploring bodies of liquid on other planets, and usher in a new era of robotic teamwork. Developed by University of Arizona professor Wolfgang Fink, TEX II is a prototype of an autonomous pontoon boat, and is equipped with a myriad of sensors and cameras to record and relay data. Nothing we haven't really seen before in an autonomous bot, but Fink has grander plans for the seafaring data collector. He wants TEX II to be a part of a multi-tiered robotic expeditionary team sent to other celestial bodies. Rather than multipurpose rovers, like the ones sent to Mars, Fink envisions a fleet of robots that can work together to more thoroughly and intelligently explore other planets and moons, such as Saturn's largest moon Titan. The team would include rovers, boats like the TEX II, blimps or other airships, and orbiting satellites. The robots would all gather data from their respective areas and share it with each other, allowing them to coordinate exploration and create a fuller picture of the makeup of a planet. What's more, Fink eventually wants his robots to display curiosity about the places they explore, and learn how to choose the most interesting targets based on past experiences.

While this level of robotic intelligence isn't going to be upon us any time soon, Fink has some terrestrial plans for TEX II in the meantime. The boat will be ready to be deployed for defense and security missions soon, such as harbor patrols or aiding in rescue operations.

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